Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Jörundgaard (jor-ewnt-GAYRD). Manor and farm inherited by Kristin Lavransdatter’s mother. The farm is located in Sel, a central Norwegian region northwest of Lillehammer, where Undset herself spent much of her life and where she died. Although Kristin was born at her father’s manor at Skog near Oslo, she spends her early life and a significant part of her adult life at Jörundgaard. Jörundgaard and its master, Kristin’s father Lavrans Björgulfsön, who is deeply rooted in his lands, family, and the Roman Catholic religion, represent the patriarchal religious life against which Kristin rebels and to which she eventually returns.

Surrounding Jörundgaard are hills, dales, forests, and streams that Kristin enjoys exploring. Catholicism is so intimately connected with Jörundgaard that visiting a church is like traveling into the mountains. The church is also where Kristin’s arranged marriage to a neighbor’s son is to take place because Lavrans wants to join his and his neighbor’s estates. Troubled in heart, Kristin asks her father to let her go to a nunnery, where their shared hope is that she will regain her peace of mind.


*Oslo. Large port city on the southeastern coast of Norway where Kristin meets the love of her life, Erlend Nikolaussön at a fair. Instead of isolating Kristin from her troubles, the nearby convent of Nonneseter compounds them. The piety of convent life is no match for the passion promised by this knight of the north. Oslo becomes the scene of their sins and deceptions, though Kristin is eventually able to overcome the objections of her family to marry Erlend at Jörundgaard.


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Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In the trilogy Kristin Lavransdatter, which is set in fourteenth century Norway, Sigrid Undset tells the story of Kristin Lavransdatter, from her childhood to her death by plague in 1349, while reproducing the historical atmosphere of that period. One of the novel’s main events, the conspiracy to usurp King Magnus VII (King of Norway, 1319-1343) by a group of his courtiers, is historically authentic. Although it operates within a specific historical-cultural framework, Kristin Lavransdatter at no time demands the reader to be a historian. Undset’s medieval characters are clearly defined personalities, and her aim is to explore certain permanent conditions of the human heart, such as love, loyalty, and grief, in relation to the social, political, and religious circumstances in which they occur. Kristin Lavransdatter is a product of her culture and her particular moment in history, but she is also a strong-willed woman who rises above these conditions to create her own destiny. Her character embodies the anxieties of any woman who dares to reject the familiar, comfortable norms of her society for the sake of the unknown.

Kristin’s first act of self-assertion is to defer her marriage to Simon Andressön, the man her father had picked for her, and eventually to break that betrothal to marry Erlend Nikulaussön. In her youth, Kristin submits to the passions of her heart. Kristin’s split loyalties are represented in the figure of the elf-maiden, a wild pagan spirit whose apparition beckons her in the woods while she is still a child, and in the figure of the crucified Christ, whose face seems to her...

(The entire section is 668 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter is a medieval Christian romance with a moralistic residue to it; life is conditioned by the strife between the flesh and the spirit, and the necessary values associated with these two apparently conflicting paths. Although she followed the school of realism practiced by Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) and August Strindberg (1849-1912), Sigrid Undset achieved fame for her realistic treatment of medieval Norwegian themes. It was primarily for her novels about life in medieval Norway that she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1928.

Undset was well read in medieval archaeology and history, but her medieval novels are not period pieces disconnected from the rest of history. She is acutely aware of the continuity of history, and her artistic vision seems to focus on what is common to humanity across centuries. Her medieval novels, moreover, are testaments to her passionate faith in the Catholic church as the only true church of Christ. The Middle Ages, in which Christianity and non-Christian practices existed together, provided her with the perfect religious, philosophical, and social frameworks for novels that dealt with the split desires of the human mind: desire for sensual union versus desire for union with God.

Almost all Undset’s works challenge the stereotype of woman as the passive erotic object; her women are passionate and eager to experience erotic love and are “erotic-subjects”...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Allen, Walter Gore. Renaissance in the North. London: Sheed & Ward, 1946. This study contains an informative essay by the author on Sigrid Undset’s conversion to Catholicism at the age of forty-two, discussing its influence on both her contemporary-based and medieval-based works.

Bayerschmidt, Carl F. Sigrid Undset. New York: Twayne, 1970. This book-length study of Undset argues that it was the empirical side of Christianity that Undset emphasized rather than the dogmatic. A comprehensive biography.

Brunsdale, Mitzi. Sigrid Undset: Chronicler of Norway. Oxford, England: Berg, 1988. A comprehensive and wholly contemporary revaluation of Undset’s canon, placing her firmly within a Norwegian historical and cultural context. Especially informative on the often neglected minor characters in the novel.

Grenier, Cynthia. “Reading Sigrid Undset Today.” Crisis 17, no. 2 (February, 1999): 28-33. The Washington Times columnist discusses Undset’s life, spiritual beliefs, and conversion to Roman Catholicism.

Gustafson, Alrik. “Christian Ethics in a Pagan World: Sigrid Undset.” In Six Scandinavian Novelists. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1968. Places Undset within the context of European and...

(The entire section is 458 words.)